FOR REALISM AND DIVERSITY IN LIBERAL JOURNALISM AND AT THE NEW YORK TIMES
Techniques of Liberal Journalism: Photographs
Photographs carry a high emotional value. They move a reader’s attitudes, and especially feelings, far more quickly and forcefully than narrative does. As the New York Times‘ politicized treatment of the famous Diaz photograph in the Elian Gonzales case illustrated, liberal newspapers, and not just The New York Times, will exploit pictures that evoke sympathy for liberal causes or build and sustain images that favor the liberal agenda, and will try to minimize or qualify those that do not. “At age 6, Elian clearly cannot fully comprehend the issues swirling about him,” went an editorial on April 14, 2000, “and using him as a propaganda instrument is offensive.” The editors then directly contradicted this statement only days later when in support of front page coverage of the INS raid they ran a happy propaganda snap of Elian and his family furnished by the father’s American lawyer. The Times ran the the Diaz photograph, which showed a gun-wielding INS agent carrying a crying Elian under his arm, only on an inside page, and suggested that its primary purpose was propaganda: “Images are Everything In Media War,” went the caption.
The coverage given to another photograph in comparison to the Elian photo exemplifies even more concretely the double standards the Times employs with regard to visual images. On July 13, 2000 the Times ran a photograph showing police in Philadelphia beating an unarmed black man. The caption was “Video Shows Philadelphia Police Beating Man.”
It was a caption quite unlike that given to the AP photograph of the INS agent flashing a weapon in front of the horrified Cuban boy that ran in the April 23 issue. The caption of that photograph, as already noted, read “Images are Everything In Media War,” and the accompanying article reminded readers that there are two sides to every issue. An editorial analysis of the Philadelphia police beating photograph, on the other hand, concluded that “The videotape records a scene that will be hard to justify.” The unadorned if implicit analysis given to readers about the Elian photo was that it is photographs that portray abuses of power by a liberal administration that are hard to justify.
Although it allowed itself to be used for political purposes in the case of the Elian photograph, the Times will occasionally resist a liberal president’s attempts to manipulate. On September 11, 2000 the paper condemned the White House’s release of a photo showing a smiling Rick Lazio shaking hands with Yassir Arafat.
But the condemnation was not absolute, however. An editorial on the event pruned the paper’s own criticism by balancing it with criticism of Lazio. It declared that “Mr. Lazio will…have to show that he can explain the seeming hypocrisy of his position that some handshakes are worse than others.”